Failing positively: Lessons from Henry Ford

“We have been taught to believe that negative equals realistic and positive equals unrealistic.” —Susan Jeffers

Wouldn’t it be enlightening to gather statistics on how many people have given up on dreams because someone told them their aspirations were unrealistic? How many hockey players have hung up their skates because a coach told them the National Hockey League was a long-shot? How many entrepreneurs have stopped seeking investors after being told their ideas would never sell? How many writers have filed stories in drawers after reading dire statistics about the state of the publishing business? How many people have given up because they’ve been told that “NO” equals sensible, but “YES” equals dreamland.

More importantly, how many people equate failure with negativity? 

Henry Ford didn’t see failure as negative. On a recent trip to Michigan, I took this picture during our visit to the Henry Ford Museum. (Side note: Please visit the museum, if you have the chance. It’s about much more than cars; it’s about life.)


“I would rather build a big plane and learn something, even if it didn’t fly, than to build a smaller one that worked perfectly and not learn anything.” —Henry Ford

Henry Ford would rather try something unrealistic and fail positively than try something realistic and succeed negatively.

Mind-twisting, isn’t it?

Sharpen those skates, dust off that business plan, pull the stories out of the drawer: Dreamland is a fun place to live, and failure is useful too.









5 thoughts on “Failing positively: Lessons from Henry Ford

  1. merrildsmith

    I’ve seen and heard several stories recently about the importance of failure–that it is often through failure that people learn. Henry Ford was certainly a success–but he also had and distributed some very unsavory ideas, so I would not want to use him for a role model.

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      It’s really hard to dig back through history and find a person who did great things and never, at one time or another, did or said something really awful. People are so darned complicated.
      In those cases, I celebrate the great and inform about the awful.

      And every once in a while, I remember how mortified I would be if someone quoted something I said 30 years ago, when I knew less and had lived less, and when I really was a different person altogether. I like to hope that Henry Ford would feel differently about whatever his unsavoury ideas were if he lived today. Maybe he’d be like a completely different person.
      Thank you for making me think.

      1. merrildsmith

        I’ve written posts about “heroes” with feet of clay–including our slave owning Founding Fathers.
        There is much to admire about Ford’s efficiency and business acumen. It’s his views that I bother me, and I don’t think too many people know about them. He printed many, many anti-Semitic articles in the newspaper he owned, and the paper was distributed in Ford dealerships and left in new cars. He also reprinted the Protocols of Zion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.